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‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ Adds Artistry to Mass Murder

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Average: 5 (2 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.5/5.0
Rating: 4.5/5.0

CHICAGO – It takes a special kind of film that enthralls the audience so much that they stop caring about the body count and are more concerned with the main character running out of bullets. “John Wick: Chapter 2” offers the same cathartic effect as watching a Nazi get punched but in an infinitely more picturesque package.

“John Wick: Chapter 2” came, saw and slaughtered the entire sequel game. This film has set the standard for how action film sequels should be more ambitious than their predecessors. More than that, “John Wick” has become a case study on what elements are needed for successful and fulfilling franchise building. Director Chad Stahelski has spent his career building up to this glorious point. As a stunt coordinator on several major action films, many starring Keanu Reeves (“Point Break”, “The Matrix Trilogy”, “Constantine”), Stahelski has both the action and Keanu experience to create a decent action film. Stahelski surprised us in 2014 when he delivered an exceptional entry into the action film genre with “John Wick”. This year he has outdone his previous impressive by delivering a sequel that is easily one of the best action films of the last decade or more.

johnwickch2.1
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) and his canine companion in ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’
Photo credit: Summit Entertainment

“John Wick: Chapter 2” elevates what many consider to be a genre that is ham-handedly physical. With the kill count close to the triple digits, this film manages to be elegant and overwhelmingly beautiful. I don’t condone wanton violence, but I am always compelled by a mysterious anti-hero who faces insurmountable odds all while dealing with unspoken internal turmoil. Writer Derek Kolstad takes a deceptively refined approach towards the character and world building in “John Wick”. Kolstad, best known for a few B-action films, started with a simple story, one we’ve heard before about a reluctant killer forced back into a life of killing just that he can one day stop killing.

Wick’s pain is all too familiar and relatable, and adding a small furry companion is enough to boost the pathos to affect every viewer. Kolstad starts by introducing us to the world through the narrow lens of a gun scope. We see everything immediately around the character, every character he encounters and every situation he faces. In this sequel, the scope widens, allowing us to see more of this hidden world that happens parallel to ours. Even then, we are fed breadcrumbs that are enough to get us hooked, but never enough for the viewer to feel like they’ve had their fill. “John Wick: Chapter 2” keeps our interest because it strikes the perfect balance between what they reveal, what they tease, and what we know is still being kept from us.

The seductive power of “John Wick” doesn’t end with the storytelling, and is instead used as a prologue to the true artistry in the film: the action. Stahelski isn’t content to settle with the current trend in action films where shaky hand-cam is incompetently used with sped-up action sequences to produce scenes of vague blurs hitting each other without any way to discern who is winning until a body hits the floor, motionless. Instead, he creates gorgeously choreographed fight sequences that blend the power of martial arts with the grace of ballet. This fluid fighting style is made all the more powerful with the film’s use of long shots, giving each battle enough room to breathe and expand.

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John Wick (Keanu Reeves) and his canine companion in ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’
Photo credit: Summit Entertainment

There is no doubt that Keanu Reeves is John Wick, and vice versa. Reeves has always excelled in action roles because usually, they don’t require a lot of dramatic gravitas to make the characters successful. Reeves has always shone in action films, especially ones where he is a man of view words but plenty of violence. John Wick is the perfect character for Reeves because you can take almost everything about the character at face value. Reeves doesn’t need to talk about his feelings so that the audience knows what he’s experiencing because he wears his expressions so well. This unspoken form of storytelling told through fantastic emoting is exactly where Reeves’ strength lies. He is not only rejoined by prestigious actors like Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, and John Leguizamo but also given a “Matrix” reunion of sorts when Laurence Fishburne joins the team. The film introduces new characters played by the popular Ruby Rose and Common, just to give the film an added layer of bombastic fun.

In a time where we get more comic book movie sequels and remakes than we want, “John Wick: Chapter 2” takes the best elements that they all have to offer and delivers an original action film that easily transcends into an art form all its own. The sheer synergy (and probably cosmic energy) that had to come together to place every moving player in this production to their perfect position is as rare an event as we will likely see in our lifetime. “John Wick” isn’t the cinematic hero we deserve but is the one we desperately needed.

“John Wick: Chapter 2” opened everywhere on February 10th. Featuring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, Ruby Rose and Common. Screenplay by Derek Kolstad. Directed by Chad Stahelski. Rated “R”

Jon Espino, film and video game critic, HollywoodChicago.com

By JON ESPINO
Film & Video Game Critic
HollywoodChicago.com
jon@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2016 Jon Espino, HollywoodChicago.com

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